Sheth slid slowly down the wall, grateful that he had been early enough to find a place that would remain shaded all day. He tucked his crudely made crutches under his bent knees. That should foil those wretched street urchins!
This morning the king was also up early. Sheth closed his eyes and tipped his head to one side.
‘I will lift up my eyes to the mountains,
from where comes my helper?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.’
The sweet tones of the harp reverberated through the palace walls reminding him of another time, another life. Father and the king, singing and laughing and pledging eternal love to each other and their children’s children. Plenty of food to eat. A warm bed at night. Father’s arms around me.
Sheth pounded the stony ground with a fist.
Grandfather, how could you have been so stupid? How could you have spurned the love of the Master of the Universe? You had it all and you squandered it.
A passer by dropped a coin. Faster than a lizard capturing a fly Sheth swooped it up and deposited it in the small pouch under his robe.
And clean clothes. How could I forget clean, lice free clothes? Thank you Master.
Sheth felt the coin secure in his money pouch. I may not live in a palace and eat from the bounty of the king’s table, yet I will eat tonight. And today, You have given me a place in the shade and the song of the king reminds me that you help those outside the walls as well as within.
Market day and the crowds increased. By late afternoon his pouch bulged with small coins, often dropped with a muttered, ‘Master, thank you that I am not like him.’
Sheth watched the sun lowering over the city wall and sighed with pleasure. You paint the sky, Master, for the enjoyment of rich and poor alike. Thank you for my eyes.
Without warning his view was blocked. Bloodshot yellow eyes stared into his. The stranger’s laugh crackled and chilled Sheth’s blood. His hand snaked out faster even than Sheth’s reflexes, yanking at the pouch and breaking the leather thong that attached it to Sheth’s neck.
Keeping his eyes fixed on Sheth, he tossed the pouch idly from hand to hand.
So, tonight, Master, a miracle yes? You will fill my empty stomach some other way.’
‘Name’s Tich, by the way. I thought it were yous. Heard a rumor yous wos still alive. Bin looking for a crip for years I have. King’s word went out, y’know, looking for anyone like yous. Want yous alive he does. Probably wants to do the dirty deed himself.’
Tich ran an index finger across his throat.
‘Imagine wot a bounty the king’ll give me. Stupid, aint ya, hanging about near the king’s castle when it’s his men wot killed all yer kin.’
Sheth tried to shuffle away sideways. Tich grabbed his arm in a pincer-like grip. ‘No you don’t, Laddie. And just to make sure I’ll just turn these little crutches of yours into kindling, shall I?’
Master you will have to work overtime. A meal and crutches. Oh, yes, and it would be nice not to die at the king’s hand. Though If I could watch him sing and play one more time before I meet You face to face, my life would be complete.
The king tossed a bag of coins at Tich. ‘Go.’
He turned to his Chief Advisor. ‘Get the man bathed, and clothed, then bring him back.’
A bath, Master. Thank you, thank you.
The king’s slaves scrubbed Sheth’s back, tugged the knots out of his hair, plaited his beard and pulled a crisp linen robe over his head.
Maybe I have died already and gone to heaven.
Two slaves helped him back into the, now empty, banqueting hall.
‘Sit him at the table. There opposite me. And go.’
So, I will be murdered in private.
‘My lord. I am not worthy to eat at your table.’
The king slammed a fist onto the table. Servants scurried in but he waved them impatiently away.
Sheth surveyed the spread of delicious foods.
‘Mephibosheth, for the sake of your father, Jonathan, whom I loved more than a man loves his brother, you will eat at my table for the rest of your days.’
David took up his harp.
‘My help comes from the Lord….’
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